AN angry Inverness councillor stormed out of a council meeting to elect the city’s new provost today and accused political parties of hatching a plot to downgrade the high profile role long before May’s elections.
Veteran Liberal Democrat Alex Graham took up the chains of office as provost and SNP councillor Ian Brown was also elected by the Inverness city committee to become the leader of the city, a newly created job.
But Councillor Jim Crawford dramatically walked out of the committee in protest and refused to return as the worst kept secret in city politics became reality.
The new provost will become a civic head and Councillor Brown will instead chair the committee, which now has increased decision making powers, much to Councillor Crawford’s disgust.
"I don’t want to be part of the deception that has gone on here," he said. "I feel that the make up of this administration has been by default and they don’t have a mandate from the people of Inverness to destroy what has lasted for hundreds of years by splitting the role of provost."
Independents are still smarting after they were controversially outmanoeuvred by the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour in the battle for control of Highland Council, despite having 35 councillors, the most of any group, elected.
The Independent councillor for Inverness South claimed Lib Dem ward colleague Thomas Prag had told him back in March the provost’s role would be split following the last committee meeting – two months before the party and Labour joined forces with the SNP to form the administration.
He said Councillor Prag’s comments were proof the Lib Dems were already prepared to override the wishes of voters and form a political pact.
He said the parties had sickened dozens of his constituents who had vowed never to vote again because of the provost issue and the manner in which the political parties had taken control.
Councillor Crawford also claimed the First Minister Alex Salmond was controlling the city committee from Edinburgh after the provostship was marginalised.
Asked why he had not spoken out before Councillor Crawford said he had been confident the Independents would have won enough votes to take control of the council.
Another Independent councillor Helen Carmichael (Aird and Loch Ness) said the coalition should "hang their heads in same" because of sweeping changes to the provost role.
But the new city leader Councillor Brown hit back and said people did not realise the huge amount of civic work his predecessor had to carry out, on top of the political responsibilities.
Councillor Prag admitted there had been discussions about changing the provost’s role but only within his party.
"I don’t think we had formally talked about it," he said. "Everybody thinks there is some kind of conspiracy but there were no talks between the parties before the election."
Meanwhile, Councillor Crawford’s claims that Mr Salmond was controlling the authority were described as "nonsense" by his Inverness South ward colleague Ken Gowans of the SNP.
The leader will draw an enhanced payment of £24,480 — previously the amount received by the provost — while the provost will receive the basic councillor’s salary of £16,234.